Looking For Alaska by John Green

December 15, 2009
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I read Looking For Alaska as part of my Contemporary Literature class. But when I finished reading it, I decided to look for Hawaii instead, because it’s a lot warmer there.

On the first page of the book, Miles Halter, a social outcast at his school, is preparing to leave for Culver Creek, a boarding high school in Alabama. His chief distinction is his extensive knowledge of famous last words, telling his parents that, in the last words of Francois Rabelais: “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.”

As the story goes on, he arrives at the school and meets his roommate, Chip Martin(otherwise known as the Colonel, because of his role in planning the traditional Culver Creek pranks.). The Colonel knows the name of every country in the world, as well as a lot of other weird information that only someone with absolutely nothing else to do would know. He’s been going to Culver Creek since his freshman year, unlike Miles who is now a junior.

The Colonel introduces Pudge to Alaska, a fusion-reactor hot girl who, unfortunately for the instantly infatuated Miles, already has a boyfriend that there is no competing with. She is the absolute most random, crazy person Pudge has ever seen outside an insane asylum.

The first night, Miles (or Pudge, as he becomes known because of his skinniness (“It’s called irony, Pudge)) gets grabbed by a bunch of Weekday Warriors, who are the kids who only go to Culver Creek because their parents are rich and return to their air-conditioned mansions every weekend, taped up, and thrown in the large lake in the middle of campus. He could easily have drowned. The Colonel, true to his reputation and his hatred for the Weekday Warriors because of his family’s poverty, plans revenge, and a plan is pulled off wherein the Warriors in question get blue dye in their hair gel and progress reports sent to their families meticulously detailing how they are failing some of their classes.

The four of them,(including Takumi, an Asian student who’s known the Colonel since his frosh year) like most of the rest of the Culver Creek student body, smoke, drink, and generally start their college experiences a little early under the ever-present threat of expulsion by the Eagle, who is the dean of students and lives up to his name, and being attacked violently by the swan from hell who lives on the lake. Through insights by Dr. Hyde in World Religions class, and Alaska’s thinking which has taken up permanent residence several miles away from the box, there is no question that he finds his Great Perhaps.

On the very day that he finally hooks up with Alaska, disaster strikes. And I quote the back cover: “Nothing will ever be the same.”

My biggest problem with the book was that the characters were too wild for it to be realistic. During Thanksgiving break, Alaska and Pudge take a “self-guided” tour of the dorm rooms and find that every single student has alcohol, drugs, porn, or all of the above and more in their rooms. Seriously. There would be at least one person entering Culver Creek not wanting to risk getting kicked out for his/her own entertainment, if you want to call it that. Pudge didn’t seem to think so about smoking-he did it only because everyone else did. Peer pressure and high school irresponsibility only go so far.

Many of the characters were fairly one-dimensional, although if the one dimension is spontaneity I suppose you could say Alaska has an infinite number of dimensions. The Colonel is fairly flat before the disaster I mentioned, which the very heading system of the book revolves around: He studies crazy stuff and does crazy stuff. Good way to sum it up. In the post-tragedy part of the story, he’s a bit more believable as we watch him and Pudge struggle through grief’s many permutations. Pudge is more believable- I can sympathize with him myself, entering the world after a long period of isolation. He has dimension. He isn’t totally, insanely reckless like Chip and Alaska-he thinks things through but usually ends up going along with them.

The point is debatable and it’s hard to tell exactly what the author had in mind. Is A warning against the certifiable insanity of our cast of characters is the easy answer, but you can tell it’s not what the author had in mind. How to get out of, as Bolivar and then Pudge put it “this labyrinth of suffering?” Who is really responsible for the death of Alaska in that situation, and to what degree? Should Alaska have tried to let go of the past that walled off her future? And so on, and so on. That’s what I like best about this book- it doesn’t just have a point that makes you think- you have to think to get the point. Assuming there is one. The other thing is that you are not constantly being reminded of the conflicts, at least after the Weekday Warriors get blue hair. There is Pudge trying to get with Alaska, but it’s not shoved in your face. He thinks about it when a real guy in that situation would think about it, and how. It almost gets abandoned when he has sex with Lara. And then, in an irony worthy of Twain or O’Henry, he hooks up with the 49th state that very night.

The perspective feels slightly artificial, but that element is put together well. It might be the reason why Pudge is so convincing- you only see his doubts, his emotions, and his thoughts at a direct level. The other characters you can understand, but it’s harder to sympathize with them.

“They couldn’t hit an elephant from this distance-”

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